"We could hear her screaming in the back bedroom," Lawanda Driskell told The Kansas City Star in Saturday's editions.
Erica Michelle Marie Green was identified this week after being known for years only as "Precious Doe." Her mother, Michelle M. Johnson, and stepfather, Harrell Johnson, were charged with murder and endangering the welfare of a child. The couple agreed Friday to be returned from Muskogee, Okla., where they now live, to Kansas City.
Erica had been raised since birth in Oklahoma by another woman before her mother took her to Kansas City in April 2001, according to Driskell, a cousin of Harrell Johnson. Driskell said the three moved in with her, but Erica was homesick and cried often.
Harrell Johnson would beat the child "for crying, for peeing on herself, if she wouldn't eat, whatever," said Driskell, who now also lives in Muskogee.
Driskell said she once heard her cousin tell Michelle Johnson, "You better go take care of your ... daughter, or I'm going to do something bad."
About a week later, she heard a loud bang from the bedroom, which she now believes was the fatal blow to Erica's head. According to police, Erica wasn't moved for two days. Driskell said the couple kept the bedroom door closed and told her that Erica was sick.
The girl's body was found near an intersection in Kansas City in 2001. Days later, her head was found nearby, wrapped in a trash bag. Police say the child's head was cut off with a pair of hedge clippers.
Driskell said Michelle helped hand out fliers about the girl and even cried at a candlelight vigil for her. A short while later, Michelle Johnson left Kansas City and said she was returning Erica to the woman who had been raising her, Driskell said.
Driskell said she told Michelle several weeks later that she thought the dead girl looked like Erica. "She said, `Oh, no. I have Erica here with me,"' Driskell said.
Michelle Johnson "always had an excuse for everything, and we believed her at the time," Driskell said.